Wise Women Build Strong Houses

Featured

(Originally published January 29, 2014.)

It really does matter what you believe down inside. It is neither abstract nor separate from everyday life. It’s what the Wise King warned about: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23) It’s easy to apply that to the importance of keeping a heart pure from sin, but his caution is so much deeper and more vital than that. Above everything else you do in life, guard what you believe to be true, for that will form the framework of the life you build; it will determine the way you perceive the world around you, others, God, yourself.  What you believe about reality will determine your values, your goals, your decisions. What you believe will shape your responses to everything you experience, so be careful and guard your heart– this is vital for living.

And yet, when you think about it, how unconsciously and gradually those beliefs and perspectives were built, most of them when we were too young to even question or evaluate them. My worth depends on my performance…or my looks…or my possessions…or my position. My happiness depends on being loved and approved of…or being in control…or satisfying my desires…or having everything go well. All childish sandcastles that could never sustain the weight of a real life. It doesn’t matter precisely how or when we acquired them– they are all only variations of the first lie we listened to, way back at the beginning of time, when the Serpent whispered in Woman’s ear that maybe God wasn’t really Who He said He was, wasn’t really enough for them. Try something else, he said, and she did. And we did. All of us, building fragile on things that shift with the tide.

The children sing on Sunday morning, little fists thumping gleefully one atop the other as they lay up bricks: “The wise man built his house upon the rock, the wise man built his house upon the rock, and the rains came tumbling down…” Because the storms do that, in life, full floods bursting in when you least expect it, or even just the slow steady dripping that rises till it is mountain-high, and that’s when you get to see what a house is really made of, no matter how it looks on the outside.  I ask the children if the song is really about building houses and they quickly shake their heads no. They anticipate my question now, because we talk about it every time we sing the song. We talk about how we are building our lives, and it matters what we build on; any foundation other than Jesus’ teachings is shifting sand, like sandcastles on the beach when the waves rush in. “The foolish man built his house upon the sand, and the rains came tumbling down.” The little ones love to crash to the floor at the end, laughing at how the house on the sand collapsed as the floods came up.

But I have seen whole lives collapse under the weight of losing a career…the sheer pain of carving up a marriage…the inexorable advance of cancer…the slow despair of years that eat up dreams. Those kinds of floods bring utter ruin, unless your house is built on solid Truth.

No matter what I have or don’t have, my house can stand if I have this: “Be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ ” (Hebrews 13:5) Regardless of what sorrow comes, and no matter how hard the winds blow, we have an unshakable foundation: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) Relationships may fail to nourish, and people we should be able to trust can prove wildly undependable, but Peter shouts out joyfully that we are valued and loved by the One who sent His Son to die for us: “… you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation,God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9) There is Truth to put down in the center of our hearts and guard with all our might, if we know where to find it.

James urges his readers: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5) Just go looking in the right place, the Elder Brother says…go right to the source, and you will find the wisdom you need.  But you had better be ready to look deep inside yourself and confront what is really there, because many of us have learned the right words– what we say we believe– even while living out a different set of beliefs at the core of us. It’s easy to convince ourselves that we are building strong, when all we are really doing is painting the same old flimsy structure and planting flowers. No wonder the writer of Hebrews emphasizes the power of Scripture in our lives, calling it  “…alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) If you want to know what you really believe, God’s Word is the measuring stick and the light that shines into the darkest, most hidden closets.

And the Wise King waxes eloquent about the benefits of building strong. “By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures.” (Proverbs 24:3-4)

~~~~~~~

In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid Ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand

In Christ Alone, Keith Getty

~~~~~~~

A wise woman builds her home, but a foolish woman tears it down with her own hands.

Proverbs 14:1

Who Are You?

Featured

(Originally published on January 18, 2014.)

It’s odd, really, the way we define ourselves in terms of what we do and who we know. Daughter of these parents…accountant for this firm…mother of this child…horse-lover…nurse…artist…wife…good cook…best friend. We spend our whole lives looking for where we fit in, searching for the labels that will tell us who we are and make us feel good about ourselves….and then hanging onto those for dear life, because what if we lose those definitions and have nothing left? I guess when we come into this world under the proud gaze of two young parents, the first label is already waiting for us with the name they choose, and it never even occurs to us to stop collecting as we go, to step back and question the whole mind-set.

But we who know the Creator have a larger picture to consider, because our lives are not bounded and defined by what happens on this earth. Long before we were laid in our parents’ arms, Someone dreamed us up and designed us down to the smallest detail, saw all of our decisions in all of our days, knew what we would do and who we would become, chose where to put us down into those parents’ arms. “I am God’s workmanship. I am valuable to God.” He who calls all the stars by name and holds them in their places knows the real me– the person I am on the inside– and loves me for that, just because He made me. “I am God’s treasure. I am capable.” And we who know the Savior have an identity that He gives us– Truth to live by that is so much bigger than what we do, or who we know. “I am forgiven. I am free. I am being transformed. I am welcome in Gods’ presence.” Because when you know God for Who He really is, you can begin to know yourself for who you really are.

There is stability in knowing who you are on the inside, in laying aside the outside labels that come and go, that may be ill-fitting and even destructive, or may not ever fully materialize the way we wish they would. There is a freedom in being who God made you to be, laying down the worry about what others want you to be. There is security in knowing you are completely loved, no matter whether you succeed or fail.

And when we go around the room and read these truths to one another, I see it on each face, hear it in the voices soft and reverent: the power of Truth to nourish souls. “I am a new creation. I am gifted with power, love, and a sound mind. I am an heir of God. I am God’s delight.”

~~~~~~~

 
The more we let God take us over, the more truly ourselves we become – because He made us. He invented us. He invented all the different people that you and I were intended to be. . .It is when I turn to Christ, when I give up myself to His personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own.
 

CS Lewis

~~~~~~~

Before the throne of God above,
I have a strong and perfect plea;
A great High Priest whose name is Love,
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on His hands;
My name is written on His heart.
I know that while in heav’n He stands,
No tongue can bid me thence depart…

Before the Throne of God Above, Bob Kauflin

When You Call My Name

Featured

Originally published on January 8, 2015.

By the end of the day it feels like a tangible knot inside…that growing heap of small worries and what-ifs, the prickling irritations of things gone wrong, the ruffled feathers of getting along, and the nagging list of tasks left undone. Each one wasn’t much at the time, and I told myself that I could handle it, press on, deal with it all some other day (or maybe it will go away on its own if I can ignore it long enough). But even tiny snowflakes can add up to an avalanche, and by evening that pile of little things is enough to crush the heart of a person. And Jesus’ words come in a whisper, clearly and persistently: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) He calls through the noise and the motion, like someone standing on the doorstep knocking, until suddenly I stop to wonder why I would want to ignore this weight of living, when Jesus is telling me to bring it to Him? And how often have I soldiered on, trying my best to manage, when He is offering rest?

I know that Jesus is holding out God’s grace and forgiveness, as a release from the weight of trying to measure up to impossible standards of holiness. I understand that a rabbi’s “yoke” was the sum of his teachings, and that Jesus was calling us to a new way of living, inviting us to follow Him: “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” But here at the beginning of a new study group, as we read and focus on prayer, it sinks in that He means it quite literally, as well. Come. Just come here and let it go, dear Child. Every day. Give up anything that is too heavy for you, and let Someone Bigger carry it, and then you can rest.

Knowing He is with me is not the same as addressing Him personally. Believing He can help me is not the same as asking Him for help. And knowing He cares is not the same as giving up my burdens to Him and resting in His love. What I know has to move me to action, if my life is truly going to change. Not sure why I so often fail to take that necessary step towards Him, though I feel sure it has something to do with the Enemy’s battle plan to distract us from God’s greatness.So I bow my head right there, in the middle of running from one thing to the next, and I tell Jesus about every one of those small weighty things, put into words why they trouble me and ask Him to take care of each one. And suddenly it is easier to breathe.

~~~~~~

On my bed I remember You;
    I think of You through the watches of the night.
 Because You are my help,
    I sing in the shadow of Your wings.
 I cling to You;
    Your right hand upholds me.

Psalm 63:6-8

~~~~~~

If you have not much time at your disposal, do not fail to profit by the smallest portions of time which remain to you. We do not need much time in order to love God, to renew ourselves in His Presence, to lift up our hearts towards Him, to worship Him in the depths of our hearts, to offer Him what we do and what we suffer.

Francois de la Mothe Fenelon

On Choosing Celebration and Finding Joy

Featured

Originally published April 21, 2012.

I am reading through Paul’s letter to the Philippians at night, in a thick hardbound edition of The Message.  I love the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases Paul’s letters in fresh energetic language that jumps off the page with the sheer force of the writer’s personality.  I picture Paul a lot that way: colorful, energetic, passionate  and driven about his message to the point of being offensive at times….tact was clearly not his strong suit.  But then, when you are an itinerant preacher spreading the good news of salvation to the bulk of the civilized world in the first century, there are more pressing concerns than being “nice.”

I have been parked in chapter 4 for the past few nights.  The middle of that chapter is one of my very favorite “how to live” passages of Scripture anyway, but this week I have been captivated by the way Peterson phrases it: “Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! “  I can picture PauI leaning forward, eyes alight.  His is the voice of experience– in a life without any of the comforts we prefer on a daily basis, he has discovered an ever-flowing fountain of joy, and urges his readers to search it out. Revel in God and there will be no more room for self-pity, or despair, or even run-of-the-mill grumpiness on general principles.  Celebrate the infinite God and you’ll never run out of joy, never come to the end of Him.

We are used to following our feelings, paying attention to them and letting them move us through life…it is the pattern of this world that we have conformed to since birth.  Has it never occurred to us that a woman’s hurt feelings are what got us into this mess to begin with?  And the more we follow our feelings the more mixed up our minds get.  What a surprise to Self to discover that God is far more concerned with our obedience than with our comfort.

No wonder most of Scripture’s practical how-to passages are teaching us how to stop listening to the feelings of Self and instead listen to the Spirit of God, be transformed by the renewing of the mind.  Think first, choose how to respond, then act in a way that pleases God, and the feelings will follow.

“Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.  Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.” 

Philippians 4:6-7

I come back to this over and over, transfixed by that last line.  When I follow my feelings– focus on them and act out of them– I am putting them at the center of my life, making them an idol, letting them control me.  Worry?  Discouragement?  Fear?  Anger?  No good can come from following where they lead.

Choose to do this instead, Paul says… choose to offer up those feelings to the One who made them and put Him in the center of your life where He belongs.  Do this… choose this…it’s an act of the will, an act of obedience.  Let your mind be transformed by Jesus and lead you to what is right, and let the feelings tag along behind.  Paul even leaves me pointers on what to think about if I want a transformed mind– if I want to follow Christ instead of these tyrants of emotion: “Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious – the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.” (Philippians 4:8)

Simply put, I live best when I fill my mind with God’s truth… all He has done for me, all that He is… thankfulness and praise taking the lead.  It’s an every day kind of choice, and some days every minute.  So I keep coming back to Paul’s letter to the Philippians, soaking the reminders in, deep down to the heart.   It’s the best prescription there is for getting emotions back on track.

~~~~~~~

When my soul is in the dumps, I rehearse
    everything I know of You,
From Jordan depths to Hermon heights,
    including Mount Mizar.
Chaos calls to chaos,
    to the tune of whitewater rapids.
Your breaking surf, Your thundering breakers
    crash and crush me.
Then God promises to love me all day,
    sing songs all through the night!
    My life is God’s prayer.

Psalm 42:8, The Message

~~~~~~~

Better is a moment that I spend with You
Than a million other days away
I’m running, I’m running
I’m running to the secret place
Hands are lifted high, hearts awake to life
We are satisfied here with You, here with You
Chains will hit the floor, broken lives restored
We couldn’t ask for more here with You, here with You

The Secret Place, Phil Wickham

When The Answer Is No

Featured

(Originally published on March 28, 2015.)

I must have absorbed it by osmosis through the years, this idea that answer to prayer was a synonym for receiving from God what I had asked for. And unanswered prayer somehow became just another way of saying “I haven’t received what I want” I don’t remember being told that, specifically, and if you had asked me I would have said with certainty that God doesn’t always do what we ask of Him. Any praying person figures that out pretty quickly. And yet there it was, that use of the term that implies the only answer that matters is the one we want.

As we study prayer in small groups, we have talked about this particular oddity of church culture, and we have found our understanding of God’s answers widening. God promised His people, “Call to me and I will answer you…” (Jeremiah 33:3) So whatever God gives us in response to our prayers He must consider a sufficient answer, even if sometimes it does not look at all the way we thought it would. Sometimes the answer is a promise for the future; sometimes a charge to repent or take action so that He can bless us; sometimes His tender mercies toward our heartache, or provision for our need; and much to our dismay, quite often His answer is No, my dear child.

Indeed, sometimes when the need is most pressing and it feels as if the world is collapsing around us, still the answer can seem to be No, and hearts can lose their faith in the rubble, unless we can be still and listen to His promise: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) Because when we ask anything of Him, the unspoken question between us is always whether we will trust Him in this, and which we want more– the thing we desire, or more of Him. It is not an easy thing, to say with the Church-Planter Paul, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10)

We can blame it on perspective, maybe, because we are very bad at knowing what is good for us, and our prayers reflect both our short-sightedness and our dependency on the world we can taste and touch.  Quite often our prayers are more heartfelt than wise, and we should be glad that the God who lives in Eternity knows what is actually good for us in the long run, knows all things inside and out. As Sheldon Vanauken observed, in his account of love and loss, sometimes our great tragedies are but “a severe mercy” from the hands of a compassionate Father. Job was honest about the impact of his life-changing losses: “For sighing has become my daily food; my groans pour out like water. What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me.” (Job 3:24-25) But I wonder, in the long run, whether he would have traded those long dark months of grieving, in light of his glimpse of God’s glory and the wisdom he gained through it. You can’t have one without the other. I heard a preacher say once that God allowed the worst thing he could imagine to happen in his life, because it made him desperate…and desperation brings about transformation. In God’s book, it is always okay to be desperate.

What does it mean in practical terms to pray “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven,” like Jesus taught us to do? That phrase has a ring to it, and it rolls off the tongue very poetically when you are reciting The Lord’s Prayer in a group. But to be able to pray that with face to the earth, in total surrender to the Lord of heaven and earth, requires us to dig deeply into our desires and motives. It’s not the kind of prayer one should pray lightly, without counting the cost. Yet when you think about it, is God’s will not the end goal of all true prayer? If prayer is abiding with Christ and communicating heart-to-heart with Him, then each of our petitions, from the simplest childish request to the deepest struggles of the human heart are a seeking for Him, a crying out for the Father to respond to His children. And every answer He gives (no matter how it comes) is a way to know Him better, a glimpse of His heart and His plans for us. And the more we know His heart, the more we trust Him and embrace His will, till everything in our corner of the world bows in submission and worship, as it does in the heavenly places. With Jesus we will be able to pray, “Father, if You are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42) and know that even when the answer is No, God will be there still, and He will be Enough.

~~~~~~~

“He must often seem to us to be playing fast and loose with us….And the danger is that when what He means by ‘wind’ appears you will ignore it because it is not what you thought it would be– as He Himself was rejected because He was not like the Messiah the Jews had in mind.”

CS Lewis in a letter to Vanauken

~~~~~~~

“‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet My unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor My covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”

 (Isaiah 54:10)

The Moment of Truth

One of the worst things about adding on the years is that feeling that you are running out of time– to get it right, to fix the broken things, learn how to live well– and after all this time, shouldn’t you be getting better at all of this? What if there simply aren’t enough second chances in life, or even third, fourth, or fifth ones? Maybe after all the blind alleys you’ve run down, and all the winding detours, you just stop wherever you are someday, and that’s as far as you get. It’s a recurring thought that haunts me.

But we talk around the table about recognizing the real Enemy of our souls. About fighting the real battles in life instead of the flesh-and-blood people we see everyday. And how we have been hearing the roaring lies of that Adversary all our lives, until it is just so much background noise. We encourage one another to examine the words we tell ourselves, and replace the lies with Scripture-truth, one line at a time. A habit has to start somewhere, so we take the first step again and again every day. It takes practice to build any skill, and the beloved disciple John reminds us that it is our responsibility to seek out truth and walk in its light, because “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). He is crystal clear about the outcome of our efforts: “…if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7) And as we ask for wisdom and eyes to see, the truth takes root in our souls.

A sister-mentor writes this week in startling black and white that “you aren’t all you want to be and neither is anyone you love” (Ann VosKamp), and there is a sudden burst of clarity– what CS Lewis called undeception— that reveals my haunting fear as nothing more than the Enemy’s roaring in the night. Every glossy magazine article out there, each stunning decorating idea and delicious recipe we pin, every beautiful photo in a blog post, each crammed-full calendar page is subtle pressure to measure up. Every opinion from someone we care about, even the helpful book on how to improve this-or-that weighs in on the phantom scale measuring the worth of our lives. It’s no wonder that women suffer from anxiety and depression. But you know, even if everyone is convinced of the same lie, it doesn’t make it any less false. I could work myself to the grave and never satisfy those impossible standards. I bow broken to realize that I will never be enough….we are all not-enough…. and that is the bare truth that takes a certain kind of courage to face. It feels like fighting my way through the shell of this world, splintering through the veneer of perfection into a freedom that admits my inability and is content to be real and imperfect, because Christ is sufficient in all of His glory. Happy are the poor in spirit, who know they are beggars in every way that matters, for the King of Heaven has come down to them with outstretched arms.

Who I am is not about what I have done but about the Creator who made me and knows me by name, calls me His own and beloved. Nothing I fear, and nothing I have done will change who He is or how He sees me. This is truth to stand on and truth that can fight the Enemy’s lies. For every misdirection the Adversary throws at me, there is an answering Word of Scripture that solidly defends against his attack. The Church-planter Paul sums it up in one of his most beloved paragraphs, and I can only imagine the joyful tears and hallelujahs that were offered up in the gathering when this letter was first read aloud to the early believers: “Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us….I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:34, 37-39) Amen and amen.

The years of my life will be full of mistakes and detours and slow-learning lessons. But they will also be full of the grace and lovingkindness of the Savior. And there will be just the right number of years for this honestly real and not-enough girl to do the things He has for me to do. The Church-planter writes confidently, “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (Philippians 1:6) He will be enough for me in whatever time I have left.

~~~~~~~

Shame takes what we’ve done and uses it to attack who we are….Shame can only operate in the shadows of our fears, but when we bring those fears to light they lose their power….See, truth does the opposite of shame. Truth takes who we are and uses it to attack what we’ve done.

Paul Jenkins

~~~~~~~

In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one…. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

Ephesians 6:16,18

Of Snowfall and Forgiveness and All Things New

They keep calling for snow, and it happens this way every year, waiting for the first deep blanket of white to hide the bleakness of Winter. It’s like the world has been reduced to its bare bones, and shivers beneath the gray sky, waiting for a covering. And after the rushing around and the beauty of the holiday decorations sometimes it feels like everything has come to a dead stop. You can catch a glimpse of huddled hearts, just trying to survive in this world…putting on a good face and waiting for something to change…feeling like a failure…wishing for a chance to start fresh.

The tree and the holiday decorations are still here, because now I can actually slow down and soak them in. The lights shine bright in the Winter gloom. Every time I see the field of stars and the soaring angel in the nativity, I remember telling the children about Jesus’ birth, and how creation itself sang out, “Welcome, welcome, we are so happy You are here!” It was the best present ever. I think of how often I have yearned for the happiness of Christmas to cover all the aching broken places– but there is only so much you can fix, and don’t we all wish the Peace on earth, goodwill to men could go on after the calendar page turns? I want to believe that the wounds of this world can heal. It’s seeing hearts change, and souls mended, lives turned around for good that keeps me hanging onto hope. And as I contemplate the rough wood of the stable in this Winter light, I see the cross there, too– it is beautiful awe-full Mystery, how the stuff of creation becomes an altar upon which the Creator offers Himself up.

And January hangs on the wall: an invitation to new beginnings, the anticipation of new possibilities whispering in our hearts because of Emmanuel, God with us forevermore. Listen hard, and you can hear the longing for God to make a way where there seems to be no way, as we search for our One Word, and dive into new projects, and refocus on healthy habits. We are all in the same boat, wanting reassurance for the regrets of the past year, and a hope for the year to come…that somehow these months will be meaningful and count for something of worth in the long run. By now I have learned that filling in those days with my own ideas and efforts is only a recipe for exhaustion; it is His presence that covers each moment with significance. So I wait and listen for His voice. And the song of the Musician-King keeps running through my head: “The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; He leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to His name….” (Psalm 23:1-3) I couldn’t want anything better for the New Year.

The snow comes in the night, silently overlaying yesterday’s footsteps, and we wake to a world made new. It makes me think of what we have been talking about in our small group, how the original meaning of the word righteousness was more about God making things right than about us doing things right. God is showing His righteousness when He delivers His people from the enemy; when He provides for them; when He brings justice and upholds the needy; when He covers them with His love and says I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15) Blessed are the people who hunger and thirst for righteousness the way a dying man longs for water, because God has given us Himself at Christmas, to make everything right again. The past that you wish you could escape; the loss you are trying to survive; the fear that hangs over your head; the hard angry feelings you just want to let go of…this is why Jesus came, to bring us His righteousness, His making-things-new, and He’s saying Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

We walk into the New Year, and there is His covering of grace everywhere I look.

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.

Isaiah 43:18-19

Can’t go back to the beginning;
Can’t control what tomorrow will bring;
But I know here in the middle
Is the place where You promise to be.
I’m not enough unless You come–
Will You meet me here again-?
‘Cause all I want is all You are–
Will You meet me here again?

Here Again, Elevation Worship

Hope Does Not Disappoint

It seems like everyone has big hopes at Christmas. About getting that amazing present. About glittering holiday events. About making special memories with family. But there are all these outcomes you can’t control, and sometimes everyday life falls so far short of what you had hoped. Seems like Mary might have known something about that, finding herself on the road when her first Baby arrived, instead of back home surrounded by women who knew what to do in these situations.

And I wonder if she even realized how close her time was, as a young girl who had never gone through this before…. or if the Baby made it to full-term at all, considering the stress of the journey. We don’t know the personal details of Mary’s story, but we can certainly appreciate her circumstances, when the pains began and there was no place to rest, and sometimes there is nothing else to do but hang on and get through it the best you can. When you are hoping for something good with all your heart, receiving the unexpected and difficult can send you reeling– feels like a slap in the face. But this is the beauty of unexpected gifts at Christmas, that God’s grace is bigger than all our hopes and fears, and He is thinking far beyond our moment’s comfort, painting His glory in the night sky for shepherds and kings and camels to witness.

Whatever we are hoping for this Christmas season, there is this certainty, that we are no longer alone. Because God has come down to be with us in all our outcomes, and we cannot even dream of what will happen next. However things turn out in our days, we have the promise that never fails: “…in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) The Musician-King knew it all along, and set it to music, “You make known to me the path of life; You will fill me with joy in Your presence, with eternal pleasures at Your right hand.( Psalm 16:11) However big our hopes, God’s plans are bigger, and in the end we will not be disappointed. The prophet wrote down what He said, centuries before He arrived in a stable: “‘My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,’ says the Lord. ‘And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts'” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

So we set the star at the top of the tree and light the candles;place the nativity figures around the creche and read the old old story yet again; and let Hope shine out into all the dark places.

~~~~~~~

Can’t go back to the beginning,
Can’t control what tomorrow will bring,
But I know here in the middle
Is the place where You promise to be.
I’m not enough unless You come;
Will You meet me here again?
‘Cause all I want is all You are;
Will You meet me here again?

Here Again, Elevation Worship

~~~~~~~

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Ephesians 3:20

Longing for More

We take a hard right turn and slide into December this week, barely a minute for catching our breaths after Giving Thanks with family and friends. And suddenly the stores are a glittering Christmas frenzy, and the calendar is filling up with parties and events, and it’s downright hard to find peace when the season demands so much…promises so much. But we talk about it in our small group, how there is this longing inside all of us for something bigger than this world– something better and more enduring than what we find here. And if we have that insistent hunger for something outside our experience, shouldn’t we assume that it’s there for a reason? That there is a corresponding satisfaction for that desire?

So we light the first Advent candle on a cold Winter morning, and in our hearts we echo the Musician-King’s songs: Those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. (Psalm 34:10)…I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in His word I put my hope. (Psalm 130:5) We believe what He has promised, and if faith is the substance of things hoped for, then here is faith made flesh– the longing of all of us, lying in a manger. Maybe if we just stop for a moment, and quiet the holiday jingle, we can still hear the angels’ chorus in the night sky: Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests. (Luke 2:14)

~~~~~~~

Hope isn’t about about thinking something will get better. Hope is about believing Someone better is already here. 

Ann VosKamp

~~~~~~~

…put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption..

Psalm 130:7

When It’s Hard to Put into Words

People tell me all the time that they don’t know how to pray for themselves. Don’t know what to do in a hard situation? Can’t find the words amid the jumble of thoughts and mixed feelings? Yeah, I get that.

But I know how we tend to fall into thinking we need to pray the solution, and that’s just hard and overwhelming, not to mention that we have it all backwards. Prayer isn’t about us figuring it out, so we can ask God to do the proper things. As if He will stand helpless until we know just the right answers to pray for. Nor is it a matter of finding the formula that will enlist God’s service on our behalf. He is already on our side, and ready to pour out abundance, if we will only be still and receive it. Like Paul writes to the early believers, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32)

Prayer is about pouring out our hearts to God and then filling it back up with His truth. And truly there is nothing better for that than the Musician-King’s songs. If circumstances shake your world, pray his songs of faith. If your heart is broken over sin, pray his songs of repentance. If the voice of the Enemy is whispering dark in your head, pray the songs of deliverance and victory. And in all things, at all times, pray his songs of praise that shift your eyes from the difficulty to the One who loves you.

So when you are running out of hope, or running out of words, or just plain running scared, pray the heartfelt prayers that have stood the test of time, and let them point your heart in the right direction. We don’t have to know how to pray for ourselves, we just have to come into His presence, because Paul is writing in the same letter about how “… the Spirit Himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” (verses 26-27)

How wonderful to know that our difficulties are on His mind, and He is expressing our struggling hearts in just the right ways to the Father, who is working all things out for our good and His glory.

~~~~~~~

Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge

Psalm 62:8

~~~~~~~

Take this fainted heart
Take these tainted hands
Wash me in Your love
Come like grace again

Even when my strength is lost
I’ll praise You
Even when I have no song
I’ll praise You
Even when it’s hard to find the words
Louder then I’ll sing Your praise
I will only sing Your praise

Take this mountain weight
Take these ocean tears
Hold me through the trial
Come like hope again

Even when the fight seems lost
I’ll praise You
Even when it hurts like hell
I’ll praise You
Even when it makes no sense to sing
Louder then I’ll sing Your praise
I will only sing Your praise

And my heart burns only for You
You are all, You are all I want
And my soul waits only for You
And I will sing ’til the morning has come…

Even when the morning comes
I’ll praise You
Even when the fight is won
I’ll praise You
Even when my time on earth is done
Louder then I’ll sing Your praise
I will only sing Your praise

Even When It Hurts, Hillsong United

The Work of Love

This thought keeps coming back around, this week, in articles and Scripture, and around-the-table discussions….and when an idea comes at you from all sides, it is wise to pay attention. So we sit up and take note of this concept that of all the things we do, prayer is the most effective, however small it may seem.

It’s a little hard to grasp, that mere words, poured out and often not even spoken aloud would have the power to change the way things are. It makes more sense to do something tangible, that we can measure and others can see– share what we have, to fill up what is lacking somewhere else. It makes us feel better about life if we can count the money for refugee relief, pile up the shoeboxes for children, build a ramp, or buy a gift. It counts for something, piles up as evidence for good, but underneath I wonder if it isn’t more about this urgent need in all of us to regain some sense of control. In a world of overwhelming evils, doing something visibly good makes me feel that I have some influence over the situation. And I like the thought that we are equipped to combat the darkness, that if we work together and harness all our good intentions we could make a sizable difference. But when it comes right down to it, we are fighting a losing battle if all we are using is our hands and feet.

The Church-planter Paul quotes the prophets and they are all speaking the plain truth that our best efforts are not good enough in any way that matters. We just don’t have what it takes to make a long-term difference: “No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one.” (Romans 3:11-12) And maybe it takes something as big as loss or illness to make us realize what we can’t control; there’s something about getting to the end of your own abilities that inspires you to reach for More.

But right there, over and over again, Paul is urging the early Christ-followers to reach out in love and do the most powerful thing in the universe that they can do: “Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.” (Ephesians 6:18) Because when we take our concerns for the people we love, and shape them into prayers, we are surrendering our desires for them into the hands of Someone who loves them even more and has the power to do the things we cannot. We might be able to wrap up a toy for a child, but the God who came to earth to rescue that child can rearrange circumstances that will help him to grow strong. We can raise money for clean water, but the Creator who shaped the earth can raise up someone to spread the gospel of Living Water in that place. We can clean houses and cook meals, but the Healer who bore our pain in His own body can give strength and hope to the sick. It is a miracle and a privilege, how He allows our concern for others to take on lasting influence and form when we offer them up to Him. It is scary to admit how little we can control, but we have a real God who can make real life-change happen for good when we put needs into words.

So by all means, let us do what is before us in the tangible Everyday to help others, and may we do it gladly in Christ’s name; but may we also be quick to pour out our heart’s desires for their good in our prayers, and wait in anticipation to see what our Father in Heaven will do for them.

~~~~~~~

“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Ephesians 3:20-21

~~~~~~~

There is no factor in prayer more effectual than love. If we are intensely interested in an object or an individual, our petitions become like living forces. Not only do they convey their wants to God, but in some sense they convey God’s help back to us.

AB Simpson

Every Kind of Prayer

We are learning to craft our prayers from the Scriptures we are reading, and rejoicing in the beauty of God’s truth, the way it turns our full attention on Who He Is and the power of His Word spoken into each other’s lives. And sometimes we find that when our own spirits are dry and we can’t find the words to say, it is hearing the prayers of our fellow travelers that stirs us, lifts us up into God’s presence. So thankful for the Family of God, and I can hear the Church-planter reminding us again: “Never stop praying, especially for others. Always pray by the power of the Spirit. Stay alert and keep praying for God’s people.” (Ephesians 6:18)

Today this beautiful lyrical prayer is running through my head…

From the love of my own comfort
From the fear of having nothing
From a life of worldly passions
Deliver me O God
From the need to be understood
And from a need to be accepted
From the fear of being lonely
Deliver me O God
Deliver me O God
And I shall not want, no, I shall not want
When I taste Your goodness, I shall not want
When I taste Your goodness, I shall not want
From the fear of serving others
Oh, and from the fear of death or trial
And from the fear of humility
Deliver me O God
Yes, deliver me O God
And I shall not want, no, I shall not want
When I taste Your goodness I shall not want
No, I shall not want, no, I shall not want
When I taste Your goodness I shall not want
When I taste Your goodness I shall not want
I shall not want
I shall not want

Audrey Assad

His Answers

Savoring this wisdom today, and seeing the truth of it working out all around me in this bent world. Because the Savior who came to give us new hearts is making all things new, for our good and His everlasting glory…

And yes, we pray for healing, and we know that by His stripes we are already healed in eternal ways. We pray for restoration, and we know that by His mercy we know complete restoration and no condemnation. And we pray for more time, and we know that by His grace, we have been given time that goes beyond all time.
The miracle that always happens in prayer happens in the most important place: the heart.
Prayer isn’t so much about outcomes, but about us coming much closer to God.

Ann VosKamp

~~~~~~~

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:34-39